Sunday, July 29, 2012

No Pain, No Gain? (Riverhead Rocks Race Report)

Ever wonder where that phrase came from?

From Wikipedia:  A form of this expression is found in the beginning of the second century. It is an expression originating from the Faroe Islands. Rabbi Ben Hei says, "According to the pain is the gain." This was written in The Ethics of the Fathers 5:21 (known in Hebrew as Pirkei Avot) Pirkei Avot. Rabbi Ben Hei Hei was giving a spiritual lesson; no pain in doing what God commands, no spiritual gain.

One of the earliest attestations of the phrase comes from the poet Robert Herrick in his Hesperides. In the 1650 edition, a two-line poem was added:
If little labour, little are our gains:
Man's fate is according to his pains.
Hesperides 752
Unlike its main usage today, it seems that when the good Rabbi coined the phrase he wasn't directly referring to physical pain.  Whatever the case, today I felt pain (more than I would have liked and I'm sure there's much more to come tomorrow) and from the glass half-full department, I know my experience made me stronger.

This morning I raced the inaugural Riverhead Rocks Olympic Triathlon.  It was a great course, a pretty well-run race, and the Riverhead crowd was great; I'd be shocked if this doesn't become a yearly event, and I'd love to race it again.

Patiently waiting
After lining up according to our anticipated swim times (which went much smoother than I'd imagined) the race began with a time trial start.  The swim course was held in the Peconic River which is primarily fresh water until the center of Riverhead (where the race started) at which point it becomes an estuary.  The water was completely flat and moved at a slow enough rate that it seemed completely still, but it was unlike any open water I've swam in before.  The mix of fresh and salt water makes for interesting variations in water temperature, buoyancy, and taste (luckily I didn't drink any water today).  

It was a narrow swim course (I'm sure why the time trial start was chosen) but it was extremely well marked.  The combination of large and small buoys made it easy to stay on course (even for me) and with the exception of the turnaround it was a mostly straight swim.  Despite the time trial start there was a lot of banging in the water.  In fact, I probably made more contact with other swimmers today than I've ever had before (I'll consider it good practice for Arizona).  Some of the contact came from swimmers passing me (which is all too familiar) but today I actually passed more than my fair share of other triathletes.  Overall it was a great swim and I'm proud of the progress I've made in the water.  I started way too fast and my pacing was less than ideal but I still swam faster than I have before.  Had this been a half-iron swim (1.2 mile) I would have finished about 11 minutes faster than I did in Miami 70.3.  

Time:  32:06

Transition 1
Out of the water, up the dock, goggles and cap off, zipper down, left arm out, right arm out, jogging steadily to my bike.  Down my hips, left foot out, and finally my right.  Helmet on, glasses on, and off I go.  Jogging again, shoes clipped in, rubber-bands holding them level, onto to the congested mounting area.  In the saddle and off I go. 

Yesterday's transition training paid off!  I was in and out quickly (haha TWSS) and made it out to the bike quickly and efficiently.

Time:  1:04

I got a great start out of T1 and quickly found a comfortable pace and placed my feet in my shoes.  I felt great coming out of the water and the confidence I've built through all of my brick runs had me aiming for a stronger bike leg than ever.  I was hauling it through the first couple of miles as I headed out of downtown Riverhead to make the 40K loop back onto Main Street and passing lots of other riders.  For a moment I second-guessed my speed, but I felt I could sustain the effort for a little over an hour.  

The rolling hills were no problem but early on passing was proving to be a significant challenge.  Despite strict instructions at the race briefing, in addition to common riding-sense, there were bikes all over the road (which was open to vehicle traffic).  Passing on the left is tough when single cyclists are riding on the left and groups are riding two and three abreast.  

At about 3.2 miles I attempted to pass three cyclists riding side-by-side.  I'll accept that perhaps it was an ill-advised move, but I was riding so much faster than they were and had no intention to have my great ride stifled by these blockers.  As I swept wide left I approached the center of the road which is where things got ugly.  Lurking between the two painted yellow lines was a narrow groove about an inch and a half wide.  I am normally such a cautious and alert rider, but in the adrenaline rush of the race I failed to notice it.  Once it caught my rear wheel it was all over.  I had no time to recover and my 23mph pace quickly came to a crashing halt.  I didn't know the extent of what happened but I needed several minutes to collect myself. 

As I sat on the ground I surveyed the condition of my bike and my body.  It wasn't good and my first impulse was to stay down and pack it in.  I could faintly hear the volunteers up the road calling in the medics and vaguely remember my fellow triathletes checking that I was all good.  "I'm okay," I assured each rider who asked, knowing full well that it may not have been the case.  

My helmet did its job; time for a new one!
I suspected I had struck my head a bit (little did I know I'd split my helmet), had landed on my hip, scored some road rash, and tweaked each of my ankles.  I rose to my feet and tested my body.  Despite the pain I made my decision.  I WOULD NOT QUIT.  I popped my chain back on and straddled the bike ready to ride again.  At about this time the ambulance arrived but I was having none of it.  Before they could even get a good look at me I informed them that I was good to go and began riding. 

I built my speed back up and was determined to make up as much time as I could.  Throughout the remainder of the bike I didn't feel my bumps and bruises and I cruised steadily along.  Once I began riding I was only passed by one or two bikes; instead, I did all the passing.  I especially excelled on the hills, rising from my saddle when appropriate, shifting smartly and taking my downhill momentum right up the uphills.  I'm sure I could have ridden faster without the crash but I still feel good about my performance.

Note:  Who knows how much difference it would have made, but I think this race could have benefited from having on-course officiating.  This has nothing to do with me becoming an official and is solely a comparison between more carefully officiated races and this morning.  Today drafting and blocking were rampant offenses and inhibited both fairness and safety.  USAT offers race directors the option to "self-officiate."  That is not an option to NOT OFFICIATE.

Time:  1:16:46 moving, 1:19:53 elapsed (includes asphalt time)

Transition 2
Here's what my father saw as I entered T2
I'd practiced the rolling dismount several times on Saturday and thoroughly ironed out the kinks in my technique.  About 1/4 mile before the bike finish I took my feet out of my shoes and readied for my dismount.  As the volunteers pleaded that I slow down I hopped off the bike and without  hesitation I ran right into the transition area.  I heard my cheering section and as I put my socks on for the run my cousin was alongside the fence.  I think they all noticed my road rash at about the same time; Cindy was first to check in with me, but as soon as I turned around to exit transition I saw my father's concerned look.  I assured him that I was alright and did the same to the race staff who suggested I see a medic.  I would, in 10 kilometers!

Time:  1:27

My first few strides out of transition felt alright but I quickly began to feel the aftermath of my cycling slip up.  I tried to put it out of my mind but by the time I reached 1/2 mile my stride had become a limp to compensate for the variety of pains I was feeling.  I had only just begun the run course and I couldn't stop the doubt from creeping in.  How could I possibly run 5+ miles like this?  

It was time to do something I never do in a race: walk.  I walked for about 45 seconds and again committed myself to finishing what I'd started.  Once I'd put my mind to it and knew there was no turning back, the pain began to subside.  Adrenaline's a helluva drug!

I kept a casual pace through the first run loop and was being passed by more people than I prefer.  Many of them noticed my battle damage and encouraged me to plow onward.  Each time I was passed I took a quick glance at the runner's right calf and mentally flagged each 30-34 runner.  I might be down and hurt, but I wasn't out.  I would catch those runners.  I started picking up the pace on the second loop and there were no lingering ill-effects of the crash left.  I began passing some of the runners who'd passed me; in the end I think I caught all but one.  I was digging deep and reminding myself that it'd be over soon.  

Up the final hill I had my final surge.  I ran with everything I had left and like I promised myself after my first race I sprinted the final stretch.  As usual the crowd applauded my effort and the usual head-turning was coupled with incredulous looks as people noticed my wounds.  

All things considered I had a pretty good run.  I'm disappointed I couldn't see the true fruits of my training but am certainly proud of what I accomplished.

The final sprint!

Time:  51:12

Total Time: 2:45:40

In the end today was about managing expectations.  I went into the day expecting to have my best race ever but all that changed with one groove in the road.  Instead it became about perseverance and the will to push on despite adversity. 

Battle Wounds!
Tonight my parents joined me for dinner and brought with them a full array of first aid gear.  Of course it's not the first time they've helped dressed my wounds; Dad came to my aid after much worse road rash from a motorcycle accident in 05'.  Like I've said many times before both in writing and in words: my parents rock!  Thanks guys!

They've got me covered and now my wounds are too

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